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7-17-2011 National:

100,000 Sex Offenders Missing . . . or Are They? Deconstruction of an Urban Legend

A new study has been released this week which raises questions about claims that 100,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. are "missing". The study, published in the scientific journal Criminal Justice Policy Review, analyzed data downloaded directly from online sex offender registries in 2010. The authors also surveyed the state's registry managers.

The study utilized a sample of more than 445,000 registered sex offenders which included only those listed on public registries. About two-thirds of the sex offenders in the United States are publicly identified; the rest are assessed by states to be low risk and are not subject to public disclosure. The authors were able to identify sex offenders designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant, or whose address or whereabouts were otherwise unknown. Nationwide, about 2.4% were officially listed as absconded, unable to be located, or having failed to comply with registration requirements. When including those designated as homeless or transient, the rate grew to slightly over 4%.

The authors also reported on data obtained in 2010 via email and telephone surveys of state registry managers. Rates of registration noncompliance among registrants living in the community varied greatly, ranging from about 1% in some states (e.g. Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia) to about 13% (California, Hawaii, and Oklahoma). Nationally, the median rate of noncompliance is about 2.7%. "The variation in how state systems defined and categorized offenders made it difficult to estimate exactly how many sex offenders have truly gone missing," said researcher Jill Levenson, a psychology professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, who conducted the study with Criminologist Andrew Harris from University of Massachusetts Lowell.

In December 2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that there are a total of 728,435 registered sex offenders in the U.S. Using the 4% figure to estimate how many offenders living in the community might have whereabouts that are not verified, Levenson calculated the number to be somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000. She emphasized that those numbers include technical noncompliance as well as true absconding. "We found no evidence to support the frequently repeated statistic that 100,000 (or about 14%) of the nation's sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for." Source: Press Release of Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D

For more information, contact Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., Lynn University, Department of Psychology and Human Services, 3601 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton, FL 33431, 561-237-7925,, OR Andrew J. Harris, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, 870 Broadway Street, #225, Lowell, MA 01854, (978) 934-3978,

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